Ohmagosh, OshKosh

I just returned from an amazing few days at Oshkosh EAA Airventure. I spent time with some top notch AvGeeks, spent too much time in the sun, ate too much bad food, drank too much and had too much fun. Scratch that… too much fun is not possible. How would I describe Airventure to someone who isn’t an aviation enthusiast? Lots of kids in the world’s biggest candy shop! It’s where you go to be so completely absorbed in the thing you are most passionate about that it is actually a little painful. It’s just too much! Sensory overload. Yes, that’s a good way to begin to describe it.

I arrived in Appleton, WI Wednesday afternoon, via Delta and caught a shuttle to Oshkosh. After arriving at the campgrounds I wasn’t sure where to go. Mike Ladd was kind enough to not only pick me up and deliver me to the campsite, he also offered a refreshing Gatorade.  Such a kind man! After setting up camp at “Camp Bacon” (the name given to the camp where Airpigz has a couple of bacon parties), I planned to enter the grounds to watch the air show, but I discovered that if I waited an hour I could get in for free. Since there is a nice view of the planes from Camp Bacon, I decided to enjoy the company of my fellow campers for a while and just go into the grounds when it was time for OshBash. OshBash is a creation of Dan Pimental, aka Av8rdan, creator of Airplanista. This was a celebration and awards ceremony for people who are active on social media sites, promoting aviation and creating cool advancements in general aviation. It is possible that I am wrong in my perception of Oshbash, but that was my understanding. I was a nominee for an award for Spirit of Airplanista, but I did not win. I’m okay with that. The main purpose of the award ceremony was to bring us all together and recognize the effects we have on each other, as well as recognizing the influence we have on outsiders. I feel that every nominee, as well as everyone in attendance, deserved the award of recognition and appreciation, which is what we all received. Dan Pimentel, who hosted Oshbash, runs a blog and online magazine called Airplanista. You can find it at www.av8rdan.com. Dan also has an aviation advertising company in case you know of anyone with an aviation company looking to make it grow; Dan seems to be pure genius when it comes to making things happen.

After the Oshbash a few of us broke away to find food before the night air show began. The night air show was spectacular; though it was better last year. The music for the performances seemed to be more subdued than previous air shows I’ve attended. I like it when the music is as rockin’ as the performance. Don’t get me wrong, the show was very enjoyable, I just think it could’ve been improved with better music. For instance, I remember the Aeroshell team kicking off the show just after dusk to Neil Diamond’s “Coming to America” at the night show at Oshkosh last year as well as the night show at Sun-n-Fun earlier this year. I don’t remember what music they flew with Wednesday night, but it was very relaxed. Perhaps “God Bless the USA” or something. Again, it was nice, just not as kick-ass as I’ve seen in the past. The other performers were also great, but again with the slow music. Even the fireworks had slow music, though Adele’s Skyfall did make a beautiful backdrop. The post-night show party back at the campsite was a ton of fun, and a great way to top off a wonderful day. There was moonshine involved so my memory is a bit fuzzy.

On Thursday I wandered all along the flight line, enjoying everything from the Ultralights to the Homebuilt section and Warbirds. The warbirds have always been my favorite; Though, I’ll admit that I can rarely correctly name them. After all the excitement of the afternoon airshow, I arrived back at camp after everyone had left to go to the UCAP Tie-Down Party (Uncontrolled Airspace podcast beer bash). After getting lost and ending up as far away as I could possibly be from the party, I walked for an hour and a half to get there. I arrived just as some folks were leaving to hang out at the nearby Hilton rooftop and tagged along with them. After drinking nearly a pitcher of donated beer, laughing until it hurt, seeing an iridium flare, we headed back to the campsite for more debauchery and laughter.

Friday was the big day for me. We started with 10 of us taking a ride on the Ford Tri-Motor. Hard to top that!!  The ride in the Tri-Motor took us back to an era where commercial aviation was new and exciting. After returning to 2013 and wandering around, we stopped at the Beechcraft tent to say hello to another person from Twitter, Jeff Stiles. I tagged along with some of the group for a safety meeting with the IMC Club, but I was chased away by a chatty clinger. I found the Other People’s Airplanes group, who were waiting for a callback from Patty Wagstaff for an interview. She cancelled on them, but they went over to the air show performers tent to try to catch her and ended up scoring an interview with Matt Younkin, the pilot of the Twin Beech 18 that I absolutely LOVE! After this encounter I was on cloud 9 for a while, but eventually found my group and went to a party thrown by and for Open Airplane. The Aviators crew was also at this party, so it had a pretty big turnout. There was a rumor spreading that space for the premier of Disney’s Planes was filling up, so two of us went to check it out. After arriving, we realized that we really should stay in the little spot we found or we may not get to see it. Sadly, this meant that I missed the chance to meet a fellow AvGeek that I had been looking forward to meeting. Sorry, Russell Loving!  Total fail on my part.

Planes was great!

After Planes, we made it back to camp to sit around the campfire one last time (for me, anyhow). There was no shortage of s’mores, beer, wine or moonshine. There was also an adventure walk somewhere around 2 or 3am, but that’s a little foggy, too. It’s really a great idea for them to have guards at the gates to the airshow grounds all through the night. That’s all I’ll say about that.

It was so much fun to see all the people in person that I have regular contact with in the world of Twitter. I feel that I’ll be enjoying the memories we made this week for months to come.

To all the fellow Baconeers: Thank you so much for making these few days so much fun! The 3 days felt like a week, even though it flew by so quickly. As a female, it was nice to feel so welcome and comfortable in a mostly male camp. The level of respect and kindness given to me was not something that went unnoticed, nor will it be forgotten.

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Bragging Rights

Last week I flew up the coast to Myrtle Beach for a quick flight. I was expecting a little IMC along the way, but I was lucky and had IMC almost the entire way. I’ve flown IMC on a cross-country while alone before, but this was my first IFR approach since I got my ticket in April!

Granted, it was vectors-to-final…. but an IFR approach is an IFR approach, and I’m proud of myself just the same!

Safety First

There are legal limits, structural limits and personal limits. It is important to know and respect each of these.

I’ve been planning a cross country flight for today at 3pm for about a week. I knew there was a chance of bad weather, but my fingers were crossed for that forecast to be false. Last night and this morning the weather forecast was calling for storms to begin around 2pm today. When I got off work and checked the weather, the forecast for storms had changed to be “thunderstorms in the area” around 5pm, and scattered clouds at 3,500 and winds at 10kts from 200 (runway 17 would work fine). Everything was good for a local flight, but the weather was too iffy to continue on my planned cross country. By the time I was supposed to leave for the airport I had a gut feeling that I should cancel my flight. The winds outside my window were considerably stronger than what the airport was reporting and the low clouds were zooming by at a really fast pace. While I would have loved to get the actual IFR time in, the prospect of dealing with the unpredictable winds while in those clouds was beyond my personal limitations. In addition to that, the winds were predicted to increase to 18-22knts from a 30′ crosswind at an airport known for a “washing machine” effect while on short final. Those increasing gusty crosswinds predicted, along with my mistrust of the stability of the AWOS report made me decide to wait for a better day to fly. I kept looking at the sky and cursing the weather, but I continued to be glad I made the decision to stay on the ground. I also later remembered that around 1pm we received a Charleston Weather Alert that a “down burst” was reported in Summerville, approximately 30 miles from here. My flight was 2 hours later, but that was enough confirmation for me.

Yep. I’m glad I listened to my gut. I may have had a nice flight with some actual IFR time and great crosswind practice, but the reported winds and forecast were pushing the limits of my personal limits. A good pilot knows legal limits, but a great pilot also knows and respects personal limits.

“It’s always better to be down on the ground wishing you were up in the air than up in the air wishing you were down on the ground”

 

Actual IFR!

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This weekend I flew 200 miles to my hometown of Greenville, SC, for a wedding. My son reluctantly agreed to be my date for the weekend. I rented a plane and was excited to fly with him in the right seat for the first time!

On the way up I decided not to file a flight plan since the weather looked to be VFR all day. As it turned out, the cloud layer was right where I wanted to be and I ended up taking detours, climbing and descending to avoid them. I would have asked ATC to open one for me, but with it being Saturday morning they were extremely busy and I didn’t want to bother them so I danced around the clouds.

We had a lovely time at the wedding and visiting my parents. We even squeezed in a Fathers Day Brunch with them before our departure on Sunday morning.

Sunday morning I checked the weather and saw that the cloud layer was going to be from 4,000′ to 7,000′, so I filed IFR with an altitude of 5,000′ with the hope of getting IFR time. I was cleared “as filed” so I immediately went into the clouds upon reaching my altitude and stayed in the clouds for an hour and ten minutes! This was a HUGE deal for me because it was my first actual IFR flight as PIC. The fact that my son was in the plane for this event made it an even bigger deal for me!

He was impressed. And I must admit, I rocked it!

 

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Defying Gravity

When I was 24 I was hanging out at a bar with a friend. We were both recently single and were waiting for a pool table. We put money on the table so we would be next in line and proceeded to chat up the 2 people who were already playing. We mentioned that we were planning a girls trip that summer because I had never been in an airplane. One of the guys turned to me and said “Really? I’m a pilot.”. A friendship formed at that very moment.

This complete stranger took us all flying from Greenville, SC to Brevard, NC for lunch the next day. I will never forget the feeling of leaving the ground for the first time. A few months later I told this guy that I had always wanted to be a pilot but I knew it was impossible. He told me that there was a flight school right around the corner and couldn’t believe that I had never even known how easy it would be to just to enroll and learn to fly. This information lit a spark in my soul and I could not stop wondering if I could make it happen. I was a single mother and couldn’t imagine how I could make this dream happen for me, but I knew I wouldn’t be happy until I at least tried.

I started hanging out at the parking area that overlooks the runway at the Greenville Downtown Airport (KGMU). It took me about 2 years to get the nerve to cross that runway to walk into the flight school. I very timidly walked into the office at Greenville Aviation and introduced myself to two people that were hanging out. Mike & Leslie were their names, and they were very kind. I told them that I was considering taking lessons and they took me out to an airplane, letting me sit inside and telling me some of their stories. Once I sat in that little Cessna 152 (N4862B) I knew it would happen. They gave me the business card of a flight instructor, Joel, and convinced me that he was the best. I sent Joel an email telling him I would like to take lessons from him and we set up a time for me to take my “discovery flight”.

On August 1, 2001, I met Joel at 6 o’clock in the morning because I just couldn’t wait for the weekend. I wanted to go flying the very next day before work. The moment the wheels of that little airplane left the ground with my hands on the yoke I fell head over heels in love with the airplane and I knew I was exactly where I belonged. After the flight we “debriefed”. Joel mentioned that “if” he decides to take me on as a student… I corrected him & told him he will be my instructor. He didn’t argue. I wasn’t about to be discouraged by rejection! 🙂

Just a little more than a month into my weekly flight lessons some terrorists flew airplanes into the World Trade Center and changed everything for everyone, especially general aviation pilots. In addition to the challenges that 9/11 threw at General Aviation, I had some medical issues to dispute with the FAA before I could be cleared to fly solo. My doctor fought hard for me and the FAA eventually agreed that I was fit to fly. When the time came for me to solo I practically kicked my CFI out of the airplane. I was ready and I knew it.

I bent with the wind and stayed my course. On January 11, 2003 I took my check ride and became a Private Pilot! Of course, a private pilot license is only a license to learn, the real adventure began that day.

A child looks to the sky

My first memory of wanting to be a pilot was me standing in the backyard and looking at an airplane flying overhead; I think I was about 6 years old. I had never flown in a plane before and had no idea what it would be like to be up there looking down, but I was sure that I wanted to be the pilot flying that airplane. I eventually told my dad my grand dreams, but my fire was quickly extinguished. Dad first mentioned something about pilots being men, then he told me you have to be in perfect health, next he said the only way to do it is to join the Air Force after you get a four year degree and just told me it’s not a realistic goal. How did I react? Shamefully, I just believed him and spent the next 14 years looking up and wishing it could happen for me. During my senior year of high school I went to speak with a USAF recruiter. I told him that I wanted to be a pilot, but even he made it seem like it would be a long shot, especially for a girl. Again, I turned to wishing and dreaming and staring at the planes flying overhead.

I eventually met someone that told me I could learn to fly and encouraged me to do something for myself. I later met someone else who believed in me and wouldn’t let me give up. Fate has a way of sending people to you when you need them the most. They may not be actively in my life anymore, and that’s okay, but I am a much better person because of their presence in my life. I hope everyone has positive energy to send in the direction of their past, especially when that past is what launched their dreams.

Never stop looking to the sky, take a moment to throw some gratitude into the universe, and keep the childlike enthusiasm that pointed you down your path in the first place.

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Taking Action

I finally got around to writing my state representatives today regarding the ATC Furlough; About an hour later I saw the tweet about a bill that was signed last night which will offer relief. Well, I may or may not have been an influence, but at least I can say I tried to do something. This was the first time I’ve contacted them and I plan to do it more now that I know how easy it is. Now I’m going to send them another letter about these ridiculous user fees. How often is too often to write them to be effective?